The Essential Guide to Drinking in Washington, D.C.

The PUNCH Guide to Washington, D.C.

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Washington, D.C. works hard, but it also plays hard. From hotel bars to dives to fancy cocktail joints, the capital has claimed its own territory—rather unexpectedly—amongst America’s most progressive food and drink scenes.

With an influx of young creatives and aides with expendable income, D.C.’s agenda has changed over the past several years, making way for a scene of nerdy wine and drink fanatics. So nerdy, in fact, that a passionate contingent of enthusiasts and professionals campaigned to make the Gin Rickey—an American classic—D.C.’s official cocktail. They even have the plaque to prove it.

Where once a roster of expense-account, cabernet-heavy wine lists and steakhouses dominated the landscape, there is now a more democratic (no pun intended) kind of wine scene. More than ever before, natural wine, grower Champagne and new American winemakers are being given real estate on lists and at wine bars all around D.C. The city even has a newfound love affair with sherry.

But it’s the cocktail whose rise in D.C. has been the swiftest and most notable. A crop of young, hungry bartenders have pioneered a nouveau empire of bars that pride themselves on having a hyper-specific focus. Today, there are bars dedicated to sherry, whiskey, oysters and avant-garde tasting menus with one-of-a-kind glassware programs. In a city whose locals have always had a punk-y intellectual flair, it makes sense that all these oddballs fit into a comfortable—and delicious—patchwork.

But no matter how highbrow the drinking scene becomes, D.C. will never let go of its working-class roots. Down and dirty juke dives exist happily alongside drag bars and hidden away cocktail joints in this city of many layers and secrets.

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